April 8, 2011

And Then There Was One

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 1:34 pm

One major, that is, left considering my work.

My novel got to this house in a way that will make a wonderful back story post all by itself one day–for now I can’t say anything, or reveal the person I hope to thank.

But for the purpose of this post it doesn’t matter how it got there. What counts is that it is, and so I’m in the waiting game again, with literally my last shot at being launched in a traditional way.

It’s the final shot because I’ve decided that if no offer results, then it is time for my work to be published some other way. Yes, my “first” novel will be coming soon–maybe sooner than expected–to a bookstore near you.

Or to a Kindle app. Or a Nook. Or one of those other things I will have to learn about, but don’t even know enough now to name intelligently. Smashwords? Kobo? How do those figure in?

Don’t know yet.

But the book is ready. An author I love even tweeted about it the other day, bolstering a flagging confidence, or maybe a confidence that hasn’t yet been rooted enough to flag.

How will I take the next step? I don’t know quite yet. As many of you probably know the revolution going on doesn’t just mean new writers are dipping their toes in, but new publishers are, too. A couple of ones who are just getting started have offered to publish my work.

There are some already nicely established independents, whose interesting works and talented authors I’ve been thrilled to trumpet here–Oak Tree Press, for one. And others.

But my writing doesn’t quite fit with mystery publishers. My books are a little more loosely formed, I guess I’d say, with elements of mystery, suspense, thriller, and even women’s fiction. It’s one reason perhaps that they’ve been a hard sell. Maybe.

Or maybe I’m just reserved–by energy in the universe, by whatever you might believe in–for a different path. You guys might remember the blog post where I wrote about getting rejected by every college I applied to.

I didn’t go to my high school prom.

And when I got engaged, my husband didn’t get down on one knee. We created my ring together, from a pair of diamond earrings left to me by my grandmother.

Somehow I don’t seem to get the traditional moments. It’s, We got engaged! versus He asked me to marry him!

But I’m still married to a man who almost 19 years later is my soul mate, the one I can work beside every day, then break to read to our kids and snuggle them in, before remembering to look at each other, and think, It didn’t happen in the exact way I imagined–but it turned out even better than I ever would’ve hoped.

Could the same hold true for my publishing path?

April 7, 2011

Made It Moment: Margaret Koch

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:53 am

Blonde Joke

Margaret Koch and I share a background in psych, a love of suspense and mystery, as well as a blend of reverence and skepticism for the Iowa Writers Workshop. And boy…do I love this lady’s attitude. Read on, because I think you will, too.

Margaret Koch

I planned to retire from my practice of psychology and write. I didn’t intend to write serious self-help books. I’d write fun, action-packed beach books — mystery thrillers in series — the books you cuddle up with on snowy afternoons or take to the beach on vacation. So that’s what I did. I started writing the Barb Stark series of mystery/thrillers. Like most newbie writers, I thought I’d send the first one off and they’d fall all over themselves publishing it. “They” would do marketing, editing — all the professional stuff I’d never encountered and didn’t know how to do. It was “their” business. “They” would know how.

I live in the same town as the internationally-famous Writers Workshop (WW, U of Iowa). The Workshop even lets townie writers make appointments with New York agents who come to town to find the next-big-thing among its students.

My first clue that all would not go as I envisioned was the parade of nonverbal cues that flashed across the agents’ faces and bodies when I walked in the WW door. Some, even ones who’d really liked my pre-appointment samples, put their reaction to me into words, disbelief shadowing their raised eyebrows: “Are you in the workshop?” Unspoken was the observation, “Geez, isn’t she a little old to be a new author starting a series?” One was so startled his chair fell over. They all took a full manuscript and liked the premise and characters, but soon would come the letter — “I’m just not in love with your story.” They must learn that line in agent school.

But I couldn’t stop writing. I just stopped making those appointments. The manuscripts grew. I edited and polished them. Good brain exercise, I told myself, even if they never see print. I don’t market worth a hoot. I don’t do PR. I’m shy, even. Maybe I’d be a recluse if I had a choice.

Then came the e-book revolution — a real revolution that will forever change the way we write and buy books. There’ll be bad e-books, but there’ll be good ones, too — and those good ones (like mine) will give rise to easy ways readers can cull the bad ones and select the good ones, without anyone (except good reviewers not paid by a publisher) telling us what we should or should not read.

A lot more changes will occur in publishing, but right now I can publish, retain rights, make changes as I decide, choose titles and covers, keep the agent’s cut, and still get them into the hands of readers without the long time lag that paper and ink demand. The hardest part was formatting for e-book production. I’d been using my computer like a chimpanzee at a typewriter, and so, with a good friend who knew Microsoft Word backwards and forwards, I had to go back and clean up the manuscripts. Now my first four books are in Amazon’s Kindle store, and they’re selling. They’re on Smashwords.com, and they’re selling. People I’ve never met are reading and liking my books…and I haven’t even gotten very far into my marketing strategy, which, strangely enough, I find I can now do.

Will I get rich? Probably not. Will I make money? Yep. Do I have a “made it” moment here? Without a doubt. I am Margaret Koch, author of BLONDE JOKE, CAMP SOUL, SONG OF THE MONSTER and POWER IN THE BLOOD, with more to come. Yippee-Skippee! (just type my name on Smashwords.com and Amazon.com. or you can Google “Margaret Koch, author of”)

Margaret J. R. Koch, Ph.D. is a psychologist with many years of experience. She’s returned to her first love, writing, and rather than write self-help books, she’s turned to suspense and mystery.

So don’t expect her to address your bad habits. She hopes to become one of them.

April 6, 2011

Made It Moment: Jean Henry Mead

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:15 am

Mystery of Spider Mountain

I have long enjoyed reading Jean Henry Mead’s blog posts and posts on a list-serv of which we’re both a part, so I was very happy when she agreed to contribute a Moment on what is perhaps the eve of yet another exciting time in her career.

Jean Henry Mead

I never thought about having “made it” in the publishing industry, but I’ve had some satisfying moments, such as when I realized that I’m currently published by five different publishers, including Oak Tree and Poisoned Pen Press.

I’ve been fortunate to sell every book I’ve written, save one that I wrote in fourth grade to entertain classmates. But I had a leg up by beginning my writing career as a news reporter. Since working in a noisy newsroom in San Diego, I think I could write in the middle of a traffic jam. My first few books were nonfiction because that’s what I wrote for years on a daily basis. But what I really wanted to write was fiction. I used a tall stack of research notes from a centennial history book I had written as the background for my first novel, Escape on the Wind, which later resold and was retitled Escape, a Wyoming Historical Novel. It remains my best selling book, although I’ve since published five mystery novels, including an autobiographical book this month for children, Mystery of Spider Mountain.

It’s a thrill to receive fan mail from as far away as Portugal, Greece and Bangladesh, which reinforces the “small world” concept. The Internet has brought us all so much closer together and, although my books have only been published in English so far, it’s surprising how many readers in other countries speak our language.

After publishing 14 books with small and mid-sized publishers, I’m currently working on an historical novel that has the potential to be picked up by a major publisher. If that happens, I’ll know then that I have “made it.”

Jean Henry Mead writes mystery/suspense and western historical novels. She’s also an award-winning photojournalist published domestically as well as abroad. Among her writing industry jobs were editor of In Wyoming magazine as well as two small literary presses. She served as historian for Press Women, president of Wyoming Writers, national publicity director and secretary-treasurer for Western Writers of America, and is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Women Writing the West, Western Writers of America, Wyoming Writers, and Author’s Guild. She also has two blog sites: Mysterious Writers and Writers of the West and blogs regularly at Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery.

April 5, 2011

We Have a Winner!

Filed under: Great Reads,The Writing Life — jenny @ 2:57 pm

No, wait, this isn’t about me and my publishing saga. (Or not-publishing saga, as the case-so-far may be).

By the way, thank you very much to Cynthia Haggard who managed to make me feel like the back-story posts aren’t as groaningly burdensome for you to read as they can be for me to write. I will do an update soon.

But this winner is Shirley Nienkark, who left a comment for Karen McQuestion, and was drawn at random for a giveaway of Karen’s new book, FAVORITE.

A copy will be going out this week! Congratulations, Shirley, and thank you to everyone who left a comment. More giveaways (and yes, back-story) to come…

April 4, 2011

Made It Moment: Warren Bull

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:27 am

Murder Manhattan Style

Warren Bull
Warren Bull and I have several things in common, including a passion for mystery, a psychologist background, and of course, a contemplation of the question, How does one ever make it as an author? Read on…

How did I know that I’’d made it? Thanks for asking, Jenny, but, like many writers on your blog wrote, I’’m not sure I have. I recently looked at the description of the Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, my local chapter, and noticed that it said the chapter includes“… struggling writers and published writers.” I believe I am both, at least at times. I remember being part of a Sierra Club overnight hike and camping trip years ago in Yosemite National Park. Tourists in flip flops and fancy clothes looked at us like we were something special. After they left , we met a hiker who had been backpacking along the John Muir trail for months. It all depends on your perspective.

I have certainly had occasional high points. In December, 2010 when my most recently published book arrived in the mail, I felt like celebrating big time by Snoopy dancing in fields of chocolate roses. Murder Manhattan Style by Ninth Month Publishing Co. is a collection of short stories that I’’ve written since 2004. I was fortunate enough to have it accepted by the third publisher I asked. My first book, a novel called Abraham Lincoln for the Defense, 2003, took nine years to write from concept to publication. I’’ve lost track of how many rejections I endured with that book. I got an acceptance notice on Lincoln’’s birthday, 2002. That was a magical day too.

I believe as a writer you have to identify small successes and take heart from things like getting good feedback from a critique, any response from an agent/editor who takes the time to comment on your work, and winning or being short-listed for an award. Completing a novel, no matter how imperfect, puts a writer in a category that most people will never achieve. Of course, any publication is a big success.

I don’t know any career as slow as becoming an author. I believe that persistence is more important than skill. You can improve writing skills. The only way to become published is to keep presenting your work for possible publication. So far, I’’ve never had an agent/editor show up at my door asking for my work.

But I have had a few made it moments.

Warren Bull is an award-winning author of more than twenty published short stories as well as memoirs, essays and a novel, ABRAHAM LINCOLN FOR THE DEFENSE, PublishAmerica, 2003, Smashwords, 2010. He has been published in STRANGE MYSTERIES II, Whortleberry Press, 2010, STRANGE MYSTERIES, Whortleberry Press, 2009, MEDIUM OF MURDER, Red Coyote Press, 2008, MANHATTAN MYSTERIES, KS publishing, Inc. 2005, Great Mystery and Suspense magazine, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, Mouth Full of Bullets, The Back Alley, Sniplits.com and Mysterical-E, and others. Find him Fridays at http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com.

April 2, 2011

Declaration of Independents

Filed under: Declaration of Independents — jenny @ 7:35 am

Most of you know I love bookstores, especially independent, charming, nooky, quirky ones like this and this and this. And of course, this.

But fewer of you might know that I love independent radio as well. I’m a member of WFUV out of Fordham. And WNTI out of nearby Centenary College.

Just recently I had an encounter that shows better than anything why we need to cherish and support independents of all sorts.

I heard this fantastic song driving home. It was the sort of song you would never hear on commercial radio–and don’t worry, I’m going to link to it so you can hear for yourself the soaring voice on the female vocalist, the potential of this up and coming band–but I didn’t get its name.

So when I got home, I emailed the station, and within an hour got a response from the Music Director himself, Spider Glenn, a guy who seems to me like a celebrity at this station, which sets so much of my life to  soundtrack.

The DJ got back to me that very night. I felt like Rob Lowe had just shown up in my in box. Or Charlie Sheen–before he went nuts. (Dating myself here).

Anyway, he didn’t know the name of the song, but based on my vague hints, and umm, umm’s, it went kinda like this (I mean, I was basically humming bars here) he made a couple of suggestions.

Then he went into the station and wrote me a fourth time.

He’d found the song.

Can you imagine a world where corporations drive the playlists and you don’t even need a human body to spin them? A world where corporate chooses which books appear on shelves, as opposed to the passionate editor who falls in love with one?

I can.  [Shudder.]

And I’ll work to oppose both in whatever small ways I can.

Please join me. Support the independents around you. Search out your local bookstore and radio station. If you can, shop at the former, make a donation to the latter. If you can’t, volunteer to read a book to the kids whose parents might like to browse, or staff the phones during fundraiser week.

Declare your independence.

April 1, 2011

Guest Post: Karen McQuestion

Filed under: Great Reads,The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:57 am


I am thrilled to welcome back initially self-published sensation Karen McQuestion to Suspense Your Disbelief. Karen wrote a Made It Moment last year and since then her sales have only soared, Amazon’s print publishing arm, Encore, has released a second book, FAVORITE, and now in the wake of Barry Eisler’s departure from SMP, Karen is back in the news again–Entertainment Weekly, no less–as one of the leaders of the pack in this brave new world of independence in publishing. Please read on for Karen’s update, in her own words. And then check out her new book, a creepy, tingly, one-day read, with a positively gothic mystery at its heart.

Karen McQuestion

I rewrote my young adult novel, Favorite, many times.

It started out as an adult book–a women’s fiction with a mystery element. The main character, Angie Favorite, was in her mid-thirties and had a father who’d disappeared when she was a child. Events in the book gave clues to what had happened to him. There was a crazy cast of characters, including her ex-husband, a rock guitarist named Elroy, her smart teenage son, Jason, and her brother, Bob, and his selfish wife, Carla (the couple had their own subplot). After I finished writing it, I had several writer friends review it and give feedback, then I made some changes and polished it up.

I got an agent for the book. He was new to the agenting game, but enthusiastic. He had some great suggestions for improving the manuscript and we did two rounds of revisions. He sent it out to twenty-some editors with the title Finding Angie. Two of them liked it well enough to take to their editorial committee, where it was promptly shot down by the marketing people. When my agent took a different job dealing with foreign rights, we amicably parted ways.

I sent the book out on my own and a few editors agreed to read it, but there were no takers. One editor didn’t want to buy it, but sent me extensive notes suggesting improvements. Her ideas would have required a lot of work. By that time, I was tired of the book, so I shelved it and moved on to writing a different novel.

A few years later, I got the idea to rewrite it as a young adult novel. This required making Angie a teenager. Her ex-husband became her father; her mother became her grandmother, and her son, her brother. The missing parent was now her mother. I made other changes as well. I dug out the letter from the editor who’d given me detailed notes. She’d disliked the ambiguous ending, (which I’d thought was true to life), so I scrapped it and completely rewrote it. Following her advice, I deleted numerous metaphors because they were distracting and unnecessary. I also eliminated the Bob and Carla subplot, because really, who cared?

I queried agents for this new YA version and one called with interest. We talked and she said she wanted changes. Her assistant emailed me notes, and I wrote my heart out for three weeks. I sent the revised manuscript back and waited. A month later, she sent a terse email saying it wasn’t for her, but thanks anyway. I was disappointed and puzzled. Shortly thereafter, she left her agency and started her own. I like to think that maybe she was caught up in the process of starting a new business and didn’t have time, but I’ll never really know.

I started to wonder if it was just a weird book.

I had another writer friend read it and she pointed out some areas in the story where I’d done more telling than showing. I fixed this problem and added 4000 words in the process.

In November 2009, encouraged by my mom who said it was her favorite of all of my books, I self-published the manuscript to be available as an e-book on Kindle. I found a great image on istockphoto.com and gave it the title, Favorite. I was overjoyed when my weird book starting selling well.

Based on sales and good reviews, it was acquired by Amazon’s publishing division, AmazonEncore, last year and will be rereleased on April 1st. Going with a publishing house required two rounds of editing, but this time around it was fairly painless.

I can’t wait to send a copy to the editor who was so helpful so many years ago. She may not even remember me or my manuscript, but I want to let her know that her efforts to help a new writer made a difference.

I’m happy Favorite found a publishing home with AmazonEncore, but I’m even happier that it’s now out of my hands and I can’t make any more changes. Enough already.

Karen McQuestion‘s essays have appeared in Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor, among other publications. She is the author of six books self-published on Amazon’s Kindle, one of which, A Scattered Life, caught the attention of an L.A. based production company and became the first self-published Kindle book to be optioned for film.  Her new book, Favorite, releases today, April 1, 2011, by AmazonEncore.  McQuestion lives with her family in Hartland, Wisconsin.

Leave a comment for Karen! You’ll be entered to win a copy of FAVORITE.

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